7 powerful things we learned from Michelle Obama’s autobiography

Warning: contains photos of a young Barack and Michelle that may make you tear up. 

Over the last few decades, it’s become standard practice for former first ladies to write autobiographies about their time in the White House. But Michelle Obama’s first memoir – available to order online and in all good bookshops now – has been widely praised for its unusual candour, as well as its focus on her life before she met her future husband.

In the pages of Becoming, Obama details her childhood and adolescence growing up on Chicago’s South Side in the Sixties and Seventies, as the city shuddered with gentrification in some areas and deprivation in others. She recounts how her family, the Robinsons, was relatively poor compared to others on her block, but how her parents instilled in her a fierce thirst for knowledge and sense of self.

She recalls meeting Barack Obama when she was assigned as his mentor at a law firm, despite him being three years older than her, and how she was initially sceptical at the way he appeared to charm her white colleagues. “In my experience, you put a suit on any half-intelligent black man and white people tended to go bonkers,” she notes sagely.

 “Here I am at Princeton.”

But eventually, she allowed herself to feel “a toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfilment, wonder” at “this strange mix-of-everything man”. It is notable that a first lady has never before acknowledged the simple fact that she feels sexual desire for her husband: trust Obama to do it in such style.

Elsewhere in the book, Obama discusses her miscarriage and her experience of conceiving her and Barack’s two daughters through IVF, her sense of conflict about whether she can ‘have it all’, and how she really feels about Donald Trump. 

Below, we’ve picked out some of the highlights – including some of the memoir’s most beautiful photos. 

On how she feels about the 2016 election

Campaigning for Hillary Clinton in November 2016

“I am not a political person, so I’m not going to attempt to offer an analysis of the results. I won’t try to speculate about who was responsible or what was unfair.

“I just wish more people had turned out to vote. And I will always wonder about what led so many women, in particular, to reject an exceptionally qualified female candidate and instead choose a misogynist as their president. But the result was now ours to live with.”

On how she and Barack make their marriage work

Michelle and Barack Obama on their wedding day in 1992

“It sounds a little like a bad joke, doesn’t it? What happens when a solitude-loving individualist marries an outgoing family woman who does not love solitude one bit?

“The answer, I’m guessing, is probably the best and most sustaining answer to nearly every question arising inside a marriage, no matter who you are or what the issue is: you find ways to adapt. If you’re in it for ever, there’s really no choice.”

On wanting to ‘have it all’ in her 20s

Obama as a young woman 

“I’d been raised to be confident and see no limits, to believe I could go after and get absolutely anything I wanted. And I wanted everything. … I wanted to have a work life and a home life, but with some promise that one would never fully squelch the other.

“I hoped to be exactly like my own mother and at the same time nothing like her at all. It was an odd and confounding thing to ponder. Could I have everything? Would I have everything? I had no idea.”

On what it was like to attend Trump’s inauguration

On the steps of the US Capitol, following the swearing in of Donald Trump as president in January 2017

“The vibrant diversity of the two previous inaugurations was gone, replaced by what felt like a dispiriting uniformity, the kind of overwhelmingly white and male tableau I’d encountered so many times in my life – especially in the more privileged spaces, the various corridors of power I’d somehow found my way into since leaving my childhood home.

“What I knew from working in professional environments … is that sameness breeds more sameness, until you make a thoughtful effort to counteract it.”

On battling the ‘angry black woman’ cliché

As a young student 

“I was female, black and strong, which to certain people … translated only to ‘angry.’ It was another damaging cliché, one that’s been forever used to sweep minority women to the perimeter of every room. … I was now starting to actually feel a bit angry, which then made me feel worse, as if I were fulfilling some prophecy laid out for me by the haters.”

On whether she will ever run for office

“Wilson Jerman (shown here) first came to work at the White House in 1957. Like many of the butlers and residence staff, he served with dignity under several different presidents.”

“Because people often ask, I’ll say it here directly: I have no intention of running for office, ever. I’ve never been a fan of politics, and my experience over the last ten years has done little to change that.

“I continue to be put off by the nastiness – the tribal segregation of red and blue, this idea that we’re supposed to choose one side and stick to it, unable to listen and compromise, or sometimes even to be civil. I do believe that at its best, politics can be a means for positive change, but this arena is just not for me.”

On what she doesn’t know – and what she does

“We made good on our promise to Malia and Sasha that if Barack became president, we’d get a dog. In fact, we eventually got two. Bo (pictured here) and Sunny brought a sense of lightness to everything.”

“There’s a lot I still don’t know about America, about life, about what the future might bring. But I do know myself. My father, Fraser, taught me to work hard, laugh often, and keep my word. My mother, Marian, showed me how to think for myself and use my voice.

“Together, in our cramped apartment on the South Side of Chicago, they helped me see the value in our story, in my story, in the larger story of our country. Even when it’s not pretty or perfect. Even when it’s more real than you want it to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”

BECOMING by Michelle Obama is out now and available in all good bookshops (£25).

Images: Copyright Callie Sell/Aurora Photos; Courtesy of the Obama-Robinson Archive; Getty Images; Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton; Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy